Tuesday, August 31, 1999

Isle SAT verbal
skill scores dip

Hawaii seniors hold their own
in math, higher than the national
average but not above
last year's mark

By Gregg K. Kakesako


Hawaii's high school seniors, in their 1999 College Board SAT scores, fell slightly in verbal skills, but held their ground in math, higher than the national average.

"It could be that the population is fairly stable," said Selvin Chin-Chance, Hawaii Department of Education testing expert. "Stable is good for the national perspective and for Hawaii."

National average math scores for the 1.2 million graduates in the class of 1999 fell one point, to 511 out of a possible 800, according to results released today by the College Board. Average scores on reading and vocabulary, the verbal portion of the test, didn't budge from 505.

In Hawaii, the 1999 average math score was the same as in 1998 - 513.

Art However, in the verbal area, Hawaii seniors' scores continue to drop, dipping from 483 a year ago to 482 this year. Since 1996, verbal SAT scores have slipped from 485.

However, a larger percentage of college-bound seniors in Hawaii took the College Board exams - 52 percent, compared to the national average of 43 percent. Participation varied from state to state and ranged from 8 percent to 83 percent.

Of states where at least 60 percent of high school graduates took the test, the highest average verbal scores were in New Hampshire (520), Vermont (514) and Massachusetts (511).

The highest math scores were in New Hampshire (518), Massachusetts (511) and Maryland (511). In New Hampshire, 72 percent of high school graduates took the SAT; in Massachusetts, 78 percent; in Maryland, 65 percent, and in Vermont, 70 percent.

In Hawaii, approximately 66 percent of the 7,632 students who took the national test were public school students.

State Public Education Superintendent Paul LeMahieu noted that "the SAT cannot serve as the sole indicator of a system's performance, but it is clear that we must set our goals higher in language arts, math and all subject areas.

"Our new performance standards are a step in the right direction. Once we expect our public school students to reach high standards -- and provide appropriate instruction and support -- they will."

Since 1996, Hawaii's seniors performed above the national average on the math portion of the test, but lagged behind in the verbal portion.

Below the national norm

This year, Hawaii's public school scores fell two points in math and one point in verbal and continued below the national average and those of religious and independent schools in Hawaii.

Public schools in Hawaii recorded 486 in math in 1999, compared to 488 last year and 458 in verbal this year, compared to 459 a year ago.

Hawaii's religious schools recorded 544 in math and 521 in verbal, while independent schools' scores average 596 in math and 543 in verbal.

Average Hawaii math SAT scores in 1996 were 510, climbing to 512 a year later and topped off at 513 last year.

Chin-Chance said that a one- or two-point dip in public schools scores doesn't mean much statistically unless the decline occurs over a longer period of time.

Scores tend to drop in years like this one when more students take the test, but the fact that scores did not drop too drastically with the increase in test-takers is a good sign, he said.

"We're holding our own," Chin-Chance said.

"Teachers have gotten better at preparing students. ... They're encouraging students (to go to college) quite possibly."

'Select group' takes the test

The DOE traditionally has encouraged students to take these types of tests to keep their post-high school options open, and public school students who take the test are a select group, Chin-Chance said.

Most private schools are primarily college prep, which is reflective in their schools.

"They're even more select than ours," Chin-Chance said.

Iolani School's SAT scores are in the 600 range.

Iolani Communications Director Cathy Lee Mosteller said that not only is Iolani geared toward college academically, but it also focuses on preparing students to take the test.

Iolani students and students from other schools flock to their campus to take SAT and PSAT preparation courses.

"I think more and more colleges put more heavy weight on these test scores," Mosteller said.

Robert Witt, executive director of the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, said his organization discourages the use of test scores as the basis for making comparisons between private and public educations.

"Taken by themselves, SAT scores are probably the least understood, and potentially the most confusing indicator of school success.

Iolani is 'doing things right'

Mosteller said Iolani's scores shows that what it's doing for its students is working. "It does indicate that we're doing things right here."

Analysts said overall performance is improving because more students are preparing for college with tougher courses. The same trend was noted in results released this month for the ACT, another entrance examination.

According to ACT results, released earlier this month, the composite score Hawaii's college-bound private and public school seniors was the same as last year -- 21.6 out of a maximum 36.

The national ACT average for the one million seniors taking the test was 21.0

The College Board, which administers the SAT test, said high-schoolers who graduated this year gained nine points in math and one in verbal over 1989 test-takers. But the 1999 class still lags six points in math and 35 points in reading and vocabulary behind the class of 1969, long before the Internet and scholastic tools such as graphing calculators were readily available to students.

"That's not good news," College Board President Gaston Caperton said. The disparity proves the board must "do more to support public school systems so those scores will get better."

The national picture

After rising for seven straight years, the average math score nationally fell to 511 from 512 last year. Scores had fallen below 500 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and then fluctuated before starting to climb in 1991. The math score peaked at 517 in 1969.

The national verbal score also was 505 last year and has risen above that only four times in the last two decades.

Scores were 540 and higher in the late 1960s.

This is the fourth year of scoring based on a revised scale intended to raise the average score back to 500 and make the results more statistically sound.

Comparison scores also were converted to the revised scale, although those for 1967 to 1971 were based on estimates. In 1995, the math average was 506, the verbal 504.

The exam, the most widely used part of what was known as the board's Scholastic Assessment Tests, was taken by 1.2 million high school graduates. They account for 43 percent of high school graduates this year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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